The Miami Marlins had supplanted Alfaro with Jacob Stallings in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates. During spring training, Alfaro was one of four catchers on the spring roster. So the Padres traded Victor Caratini and sent Luis Campusano to Triple-A El Paso to begin the season.
The Texas Rangers signed the Columbian during Preller’s tenure as a scout with the organization, so he was familiar with him. The right-hander’s main claim to fame is his power, arm strength, and control of the running game. The Padres offered the 6-3, 230-pound backstop a one-year contract worth $2.73 million. He’ll be arbitration-eligible next year and a free agent in 2024.
Alfaro debuted at the age of 23 in September 2016 and spent three years in Philadelphia and three in Miami. Last year he caught 61 games, played left field in 21 games, and first base in three games.
Since the Padres hired Preller, he’s cycled through 20 catchers:
Acquired in 2020, Nola has appeared in just 119 games. Last year he made three trips to the IL and ended his season with a strain of his left thumb which required surgery. Cumulatively Nola has batted .247/.322/.340/.662. But so far this year, he’s regressed to a batting line of .228/.301/.282/.582 in 149 at-bats. He’s yet to match his performance with the Seattle Mariners, where he batted .280/.351/476/.827
Last year, Alfaro batted .244/.283/.342/.625 with 15 doubles, one triple, and four home runs in 311 plate appearances for the Marlins. He’s already played more games for the Padres (34) than he did for the Marlins in 2020 (31 games), when he batted .226/.280/.344/.624).
Over his career, he’s amassed a record of.260/.309/.405/.715 91 OPS+, 3.1 WAR. So far in San Diego, El Oso (The Bear as he’s called) is raking: 0.9 WAR .283/.320/.478/.798 130 OPS+. Despite his size, the big guy has some speed and can steal a base. He’s also made some heads-up plays at the plate.
But overall, his defense has been questionable. According to FanGraphs’ DRS, over 3087 total innings, Alfaro rates -17 and -4 in San Diego over 277.2 innings. Also, he has led the National League in passed balls in 2018, 10; 2021, 13; 2022 3.
Obviously, the Padres’ offense has been anemic during most of the season, and Alfaro’s bat has been one of the only bright spots.
However, manager Bob Melvin, a former catcher, generally places a higher value on defense. “The first part for us is catching,” Melvin told reporters in early June. So far, Nola has caught in 44 games, as Alfaro’s number has increased to 35 in the search for offense.
The Padres have deliberately pared Nola with Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove. The latter commented recently that “for guys like me and Yu that have as many weapons as we do, it makes it a lot easier when you have one guy because as you go through the season, you only get better and better with understanding what things work together and how to pair them.”
Pitcher matchups and defense play a big part in determining the catcher du jour. After a dismal two and a half months, the bats have slowly come to life. Alfaro has fared well at the plate and is batting .282 and fourth on the team, fifth in home runs at five. If the offense continues to improve, he may get less playing time as Melvin and company opt for defense behind the plate over offense.